LOCATION: THE PROMETHEAN

 

You have left your condo in The Promethean and entered the elevator. There is only one other person there, a man you do not know. The elevator plunges down down at terrifying speed, as if free falling. The man seems unconcerned, annoyingly unperturbed. The elevator comes to a stop. The doors slide open and you quickly exit.

 

You find yourself standing in a vast lobby that echoes with the deafening din of many voices—like Grand Central at rush hour. The walls of the lobby rise several hundred feet above you and appear to be lined with rusting and stained iron plates held in place by large bolts. Crowds of people surge on and off the elevators, which, arranged in banks, might number in the hundreds.

 

“Follow me,” the man who is with you in the elevator says. Pushing through the crowds, the two of you bulldoze your way through a revolving door to the outside and a sidewalk thronged with pedestrians. It is the middle of the city, but the city isn’t New York. That is clear from the architecture of the buildings, which look like ziggurats, but studded with windows of different shapes, all of them aglow. It’s night—the hot sticky night of a Calcutta or a Rio—with a sky that seems slick and shiny and infinitely black.

 

“Does it have a name?” You ask the man.

 

“I believe it does, but I’m afraid I don’t know it. Honestly, there are so many cities, it’s hard keeping track.”

 

“Any idea why I'm here?”

 

How should I know?  I’m supposed to show you around.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Sorry, I wasn’t told.”

 

You look up and down the street. No one is speaking to anyone else. The faces of the people are expressionless, zombie-like. “I’m not sure I like it here.”

 

“Not many do. Except  for them." He points to one of the tall buildings that rise high into the night sky, their tops with all their windows brilliantly lit.

 

"Who's up there?"

"The One Percent."

 

Suddenly, the man grabs you by the arm and pulls you into a doorway. Up the street and coming around a corner is a man nearly twice as large as anyone else. As he strides rapidly and impudently down the sidewalk, people scramble to get out of his way. You can see that he isn’t exactly a man—or even human. His body is mostly human, but not his head. He seems to have the head of a rat. Then you notice his tail.

 

“What in God’s name is that?”

 

“They run things in this town. Come on, let’s go.”

 

“What are they called?”

 

“Grundels, I believe. Or maybe Grindels. Or maybe something else. Why is it important?”

 

“You’re not very helpful.”

 

“Grundels, okay?”

 

They walk for several minutes, until they come to a large square where many of the rat-people are congregating. You can see that the Grundels are impatiently waiting in line to take a seat on a long platform. When one leaves, another quickly approaches the open seat and sits down.

 

“Is this what I think it is?” You say, as a powerful stench nearly causes you to retch.

 

“The Grundels eat constantly, and what they eat, though they dearly love it, doesn’t agree with them, so they constantly suffer from diarrhea. Thus the need for these latrines, which are conveniently located all over town.”

 

Tending the latrines are people—mostly men—in worker’s overalls, besmeared in excrement. Their job is to empty the tanks under the platform using buckets. Once a bucket has been filled, it’s emptied into a wheelbarrow-like container and hauled to a waiting truck, where the contents are dumped into a hopper.

 

“This is disgusting and unsanitary. Why don’t they have a sewer system?”

 

“The Grundels don’t think it’s disgusting or unsanitary at all. They like it this way. They’re Grundels.”

 

You watch the Grundels come and go, grunting and snorting as they fill up the nearly overflowing tanks, which the workers, moving as fast as they can, struggle to empty with their plainly inadequate buckets.

 

“I don’t understand. Why are we standing here watching this disgusting scene?”

 

The man shrugs. "Don't look, I don't care."

 

You study the individual faces of the workers. Suddenly, you think you recognize one. The man bears a striking resemblance to Floyd Busby, the recently deceased founder of the Floyd Busby Ministries.

 

“Rev. Busby!”

 

Busby looks up, puts down his bucket and comes over to you. “How’re you doing?” he says in a subdued voice.

 

“I don’t know, Reverend. I don’t know how I’m doing.”

 

Busby wipes his hands on his overalls. “Better than me, I think.”

 

“I don’t understand. You of all people. What are you doing here?”

 

“Apparently I missed the main point.”

 

“What about all the amazing charity work you did? Traveling the world to deliver the Good News. Spiritual counselor to all those presidents. Receiving all those awards. Nobody did it better than you, Reverend!”

 

“I went with my gut. My brain told me otherwise, but I refused to listen. I thought it was the Devil. But the Devil was in the other place, telling me things I wanted to hear, what I wanted to believe.”

 

You shake your head, the words barely making sense.

 

“I had it upside down. I was on the wrong side! Believed that? There I was toiling away in the vineyard, and in the end it was just the path of least resistance.”

 

“The path of least resistance? The world looked up to you!”

 

“Gross misuse of talent, they said.”

 

“I’m so sorry!”

 

“I made my bed. Look, I have to go. They don’t like it when you slack off. I don’t want to get fired. There are worse jobs than this, let me tell you.”

 

Busby hustles back to his work crew, and you turn to the man from the elevator. “So is this it? These people have to be here and do this for eternity?”

 

The man rolls his eyes. No doubt he has gotten this question many times before. “Nothing lasts for eternity. When your time is up, that’s it. People die here like everywhere else.”

 

“And then?”

 

“What happens after that is anyone’s guess.”

 

“I’m very confused.”

 

“Join the club.”

 

“What’s all this supposed to mean?”

 

“I wish I could tell you.  They say whether you find out or not is really entirely up to you. Does that help?”

"Not at all."